Wednesday, August 16, 2017

There is No Romance to History

    In the wake of clashes over the weekend in Charlottesville over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, protesters in North Carolina tore down a Confederate monument. They proceed ed to beat, kick, and spit on the fallen monument while cheering. The rationale for their actions was to demonstrate contempt for the racism of a begone age in modern, enlightened times. I cannot help but notice while watching a news story on the event the enlightened protesters resembled a bunch of Neanderthals who have just killed their first mastodon.
    Seriously, watch the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Missing Links discover tools and excitedly bash animal bones while dancing around and hooting. Such was the scene in North Carolina. Bonus points awarded for 2001's theme being about the reversal of dominance throughout history between man and the  technology he uses. It can be aptly applied to how people are using history today. Simply put, learning from history or becoming emotionally attached to it. The latter appears to be dominant right now.
     I am a student of history. The study of history is intended to teach lessons from the past in order to make better decisions in the present. One might approach the subject with a healthy dose of cynicism—I certainly do—when one notices history tends to go in cycles regardless of whether we learn from the lessons of the past. But that is a thought to elaborate on another time. The bottom line is history is best viewed objectively without any sense of nostalgia.
    Anyone who has studied history does so to some extent. I look at the sarcophagus of an ancient Pharaoh or the statue of a roman emperor without any nostalgia for a long dead kingdom or empire. I cannot imagine too many people do so. Likewise, I do not feel any pride towards Confederate monuments even as a Southern with stronger ties to the Confederacy than ancient Egypt or Rome. They are symbols of history, and nothing more.
  I am not completely cold here. For instance, I recognize the importance of Robert E. Lee. I look at his moral choices within the context of his rime period. I am not one to participate in his apotheosis, but I recognize he made a tough choice by leading the Confederate army instead of fighting against the Virginians he had known all his life. Yes, his principled stand meant fighting for the side of slavery. Yes, we can lament the reality of it in hindsight with our modern reality, but we cannot erase it because Lee would not fit in well in 2017 America. On the other hand, people need to stop with the nostalgia trip that is encouraging racists to lash out violently.
     Both sides judging history in their own fiery passion need to realize that a century or two from now, what is considered enlightened today will be considered barbaric. What if everyone is a vegan in the future? Eating animals in the 21st century would be immoral, and anyone who did so would be redeemable. Like the salve owners of the Antebellum South, right? We live in the most enlightened age only until the next age comes along.

No comments:

Post a Comment